BATMAN #17 — And so at last we come to this. It’s only been four months, but each successive chapter of this main run of “Death Of The Family” has done such an effective job of ratcheting up the tension and elevating the stakes that after the first four parts of just the Snyder/Capullo main run, so much as opening up to this final first page was an almost unbearable proposition. I straight up paced back and forth through my living room for an extra ten minutes, had to knock down an extra Lone Star for the courage to finally proceed. Of course, everyone thought it was going to be Alfred’s head on the platter and so that meant that it couldn’t be, but then I tried to imagine what was the absolute worst thing that could happen, how could the Joker gut Batman most effectively, and the simple answer was to kill his son. I mean, there’s nothing worse. And that also would have done a real number on the fans, even in this jaded era of event deaths and next-month resurrections. And sure, there could have been a Lazarus Pit for Damian. His mother has a key to one or two of them. But it wouldn’t diminish the impact of the loss of life, his father holding the weight of that little lifeless body in his arms. I really did not want to read this comic book. But then it was midnight and what finer time to begin? A solid set-up with the splash on Pages Two and Three. No one’s dead yet, but no sign of Alfred. Okay, wait, Alfred’s alive but all Jokerized, which still elicits a “Thank God” from his surrogate son. And but then at last the reveal of what’s under the covered dish. Followed by a perfect layout from Capullo, that composite heart panel, almost like the sidekicks comprise the various chambers of Bruce’s heart, say, but then with the Joker underneath professing his own horrifying brand of undying love. “Beneath my grin, though, is just more grin!” is an incredible line. And I dig how Batman finally replies with nothing but a declaration of absolute hate. That’s perfect. Twists within twists: their faces weren’t really cut off and they’re all okay, and Batman should leave them to hunt down Joker for good, only then the bomb goes off and they all get gassed and start trying to kill one another. And we’re going great until we get to the last last climactic exchange between the two over the edge of the cliff in the underground cave. Batman makes the decision not to kill Joker because of course he mustn’t, but now he’s suddenly figured out who Joker is? And is about to whisper his true identity when Joker hits the boobytrap on the cowl and gets shocked and squirms out of his opponent’s grasp to fall to yet another indeterminate fate. Total lack of resolution. I mean, I see how that’s the way it had to go, something like that. This can’t be the last page of Miller’s HUNT THE DARK KNIGHT, the third installment of that landmark story, that kind of thing isn’t going to fly here in the monthly “main” continuity. It just felt like this was entire thing was all set-up, very intelligent and perfectly conceived set-up that failed to deliver on anything lasting. Not that I wanted Alfred or Damian’s head on the platter. But that bit about the Joker’s identity at the very end is a microcosm of what left me kind of squinting askew at the final few pages of this. The whole thing left me feeling quite empty. Maybe that just means it worked. I do quite like how the title of the arc came true, the only actual casualty of this whole mess, at least for the next little bit here, appears to be the tightly knit set of foster relationships that Bruce has cultivated with his various sidekicks over the years. Which was all part of the master plan, naturally. Curse you, Joker!
BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #17 — And then but here comes this slice of perfection barreling up out of nowhere. Tomasi/Gleason/Gray have been killing it since Day One (and I think Kalisz has been onboard that long?), but it is a true testament to the full extent of their powers that they can roll up right behind the conclusion to such an overall well executed event and knock it out of the park with a damn dream issue. I mean, this kind of thing is usually a throwaway, heavy on the shock and spectacle because nothing needs to count, there doesn’t have to be logic, but it’s hard to make any of it stick or feel like it in any way matters. This series of dream sequences, however, manage to provide characterization while dropping us down the rabbit hole of the Wayne family psyches. Damian works through some not surprisingly dark imagery of everybody else drowned in a submarine holding tank before chasing a robin into his father’s pivotal bell-ringing encounter with the bat in the parlor. Alfred, no surprise, conjures up Thomas and Martha in order to see them one more time before knocking out some traditional wish fulfillment by unloading both barrels of a shotgun all over Joker’s face. But then Bruce, man, I can’t quite unpack that entire mess, his parents fall out of his boat and then various rogues threaten to capsize it but instead the whole mess tumbles into the belly of a Jokerwhale? And then Damian pulls him up out of the water, saves him in a way that he couldn’t save his own parents. Dreams are weird. But just a beautiful last scene there, the one-two of Bruce checking on Damian, tucking him in and patting on him, the boy smiling and then dreaming of watching the sunrise with his father. Stirring material. Really strong work from all parties.
COMEDIAN #5 — Fast Eddie’s Vietnamese hijinx continue and they are about as unfunny as we’ve all come to expect. With a dash of baby-eating allusion to bring the point home. J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair continue to provide lush photo-realistic art as perfectly suited to the tone of the character as Azzarello’s brutal and unflinching script. The bit about 500 being an unacceptable threshold for the American public accepting casualties rings particularly true. And Bobby. It would actually be kind of a brilliant twist if, after all this time, Eddie turns out to be the clandestine assassin for the other Kennedy brother. In the next six to eight weeks, we’ll know.
FATALE #12 — And that’s two issues of this one in a row. Like THE UNWRITTEN, I’m finding that I dig this series more when it breaks from the main narrative and just runs wild down a tangent track. In both cases, the regular stuff is of course terribly compelling, but these offshoots have an energy, a momentum to them that is contagious. The creators infect you with their excitement for their sudden whiplash-inducing left turn. Here, we finally meet another Femme Fatale who is tied up in the origin of all these shenanigans thus far. But, even better, Brubaker and Phillips welcome Bettie Breitweiser to the book as regular colorist. Losing Dave Stewart would be a catastrophic blow to pretty much any creator-owned title such as this, but of course this dynamic duo gets right back on their feet with one of the best and most underrated colorists in the business. Beautiful work, all.
STAR WARS #2 — The team nails another opening scene, we get a shot of Han/Chewie interaction before Boba Fett shows up and then there’s just enough time to plot a course through hyperspace and jump to lightspeed before the Star Destroyer shows up to corral the Falcon. I’m pretty sure I did exactly this with action figures in 1982. Leia watching the Alderaan tourism video is a nice touch, as is the conversation between the simulation tech and Wedge about what a cocky pilot Luke is. He was much whinier just a little while ago, fellas, old Biggs Darklighter could tell you a thing or two. Wood succeeds in making this new Colonel Bircher fellow interesting and engaging in his first three pages. That’s not all the groundwork that needs to be laid, we meet six new characters in a single page. It’s interesting, as much as you’d think the personal details would help lock down all these new folks in your mind, the two descriptions that stick out most aren’t anecdotal but planetary: “Tess Alder, from Corellia,” and “Gram Cortess, from Alderaan.” What is that last shot of Prithi supposed to mean, though? She’s got something going for or against Leia or Luke? She’s the spy? And but of course killer and gorgeous last page. Not even that much really went down this issue, but I already can’t wait for next month.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #9 — Well, it seemed to me that last issue was the big finish of this title’s first major arc, and the majority of the climax certainly went down, but this epilogue delivers more than enough thunder all on its own. With a little help from FDR: A.I., our heroes track down and eliminate the scattered members of the cabal who have until now held the world under their thumb. Strange bit of synchronicity, the A.I. referring to Truman as the cabal’s “big stick,” the same name that Azzarello has Edward Blake originally choosing for his masked identity on up the page a bit. This particular big stick meets his grisly fate at the hands of Oppenheimer, all the more horrifying from taking place off-panel. And great fake-out with Kennedy’s speech in Texas there, of course all anybody’s expecting is them sending him off to his assassination, but it turns out to be the inspirational “We choose to go to the moon,” number from September ’62 at Rice, ghost-written by Feynman, apparently. So but, wow. All this has basically amounted to the pilot. The stage is set. Our amoral monstrous protagonists have installed themselves as the secret rulers behind the powers that be on both sides of The Iron Curtain. What Happens Next? has never been a more compelling question, as far as this series is concerned.
MORNING GLORIES #24 — And another Ike issue comes through with the big revelations naturally leading to more questions but providing more substantive answers than we’re used to getting. As ever, much appreciation to the creators for providing such a ridiculous amount of content at absolutely no additional cost. 44 pages, ad-free, for $2.99. That’s like nine dollars worth of business over at the Marvel! This story needed that much room to breathe, though. Of course, Spencer isn’t merely dicking around by naming his father/son combo here after the immediate ancestors of Jacob, but actually straight up invoking the Judeo-Christian mythology that winds up getting inverted in a scene that plays as surprising but is actually completely set up in hindsight. Eisma and Sollazzo continue to barrel along at an almost Kirby-level pace, regularly slamming out pages faster than pretty much anybody else you can name these days, always putting storytelling first but never sacrificing the quality of staging, composition, body language, facial expressions. These guys are operating at a high level of craft and making it look much easier than it is, all in the service of a hell of a ripping good story.
AMERICA’S GOT POWERS #5 — And speaking of value, here we have three dollars for 28 pages of Hitch/Neary/Mounts goodness. 29 pages, really, that last one double-page splashes into the inside back cover. That’s more than enough, right there. Dear old Wossy isn’t just dialing right in and breaking my heart with any of this characterization, but the story clips along at a brisk pace and he certainly never fails to keep you engaged and wondering where the plot is heading. It’s interesting, what an almost house style this art team is unto itself at this point, Mounts wasn’t on AUTHORITY, but of course it started there (or with STORMWATCH, but splitting hairs, there), then ULTIMATES, that FF run with Millar, and now over here before heading back to light up the good old 616 here in a just a bit with some Ultron fighting time. If you need an army of super-folk filling up the sky, no one can do it for you like these fellows.
FANTASTIC FOUR #004 — Fraction really lathers up the doey-eyed loving goodness as Reed delivers a second-person narrative aimed at his true love, recounting their first days of courtship. It’s an ideal time for it, make him as sympathetic as possible, because of course there’s no way he’s able to keep the real reason behind their space/time field trip a secret from his beloved for long, and oh but it also turns out he’s the one who traveled back in time to drop some ancient prophetic cave paintings for some alien civilization they just now met who, surprise, actually turns out to not be horrible and bloodthirsty. At least, so far. A sweet little shot of Valentine’s, this.
THE UNCANNY X-MEN #001 — You know how just the taste or smell of something you haven’t experienced in a long time can rocket you right back to the last time and place when and where you did? I think that Proust fella wrote a few words about such a phenomenon one time. I seldom experience such a sensation with new books on Wednesday nights, but man, that very first page, Maria Hill striding down the hall but like we’ve never seen her before, body language, the simple lines of her face, the characters’ stance in relation to one another, and those colors, oh it’s vintage Bachalo, I’m a teenager falling in love with Death learning the high cost of living and having the time of your life and then the yearn and burn of Paige & Starsmore for one another over in that first and forever greatest GENERATION X. It’s funny, I’ve seen new Bachalo pages as recently as this new Wolverine series with Aaron and then seems like at least something else since that killer “Assault on Weapon Plus” arc back a ways on Morrison’s NEW X-MEN but just something about the set-up this time out sent the floodgates of nostalgia crashing down and roaring open. So. That was nice. But how’s the rest of the book, the actual content? Well, with Bendis behind the helm, it is no great surprise that the entire thing takes place as a conversation between two principles and one of them is his beloved Agent Hill. But the main news, the real deal, is that almost half of this thing’s twenty pages are slightly askew double-page layouts of Bachalo drawing the Sentinels whupping up on Cyclops’s Uncanny Brotherhood and getting whupped upon in return. A pretty binary situation, that’s either going to turn you off and earn a Pass or you’re immediately going to have to see this robot-fightin’ time for yourself. On the reread, this one does come off a bit skinnier than the justice getting slung over in ALL-NEW, but the reveal on the last page does skew the status quo better than what we were supposed to be afraid it was, and hey, Bachalo Sentinels.